Mali was a Black Empire and was ruled by Mansa Musa also known as KanKan Moussa. He brought Mali to its peak. Mansa Musa ruled the Empire from 1312-1337. He was the nephew of Sundiata Keita. Mali's empire was very wealthy from 1240-1500. Scholars say that Kangaba's people started Mali's empire. They were called the Malinke people. Kangaba and some other tiny states fought for the control of Mali's empire's land. He greatly expanded Mali and made it West Africa's Political Cultural Power. Mansa Musa also brought trading posts to Gao, Walata, and Timbuktu. He also made Timbuktu the center of learning, mostly in law and the study of Islam (the Muslim religion). Ancient Mali was very rich in culture. It had different types of music, art and a lot of entertainment even for the children.

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Mali is rich with different art forms. Art had a meaning about religion, health, village, harmony and successful agriculture.

Story telling: Griots (story tellers) were village entertainers and oral historians. They would tell stories of great leaders of Mali. One of the greatest stories is about Sundjata, Lion King, and founder of the Mali Empire.

Textiles: Textiles were typically colorful and patterned. Some were made by beating designs cut on calabash stamps onto cloth. Everywhere in Mali, wedding blankets, blue indigo cloth of Tuareg and tie-dyed cloth are seen. The mud cloth made in Djenné is seen throughout Mali. In that, traditional/abstract designs are painted on sheets of rough cloth using different types of soil for color. It's done only by women.

Wood carving: In wooden carvings, gender is extremely important, which is the reason, body parts are exaggerated. The body parts are mostly the head, buttocks, navel and breasts. People who impersonate spirits or their ancestors wear carved masks to disguise themselves. The chiwaras (antelope-like masks of the Bambara) and elaborate Dogon Masks are very well known. When a Dogon dies, the spirit of the death is believed to live in the mask. The Dogon also makes fancy carved wooden doors, locks, and house posts for their mud buildings.

Music: Traditional West African music has lots of rhythm and melodies happening at the same time. Some instruments used are strings, flutes and many types of drums. The best known string instrument in Mali is the kora. It has 21 strings that are supported over long neck made of rose wood. The flute is traditionally played by Fulani shepherds. It's made from millet, stalks, bamboo and gourds. Drums are made in all shapes and sizes. They're used for music AND communication. Drums are generally covered with goatskin.

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The Dogon, Bambara, Bozo and Fulani are a few of the houses made in ancient Mali. Mosques were very distinctive. They were made of sun-dried mud with beams and branches of trees.


In the Dogon area, women traditionally wear 8 small rings on the rim of their ear to signify the 8 Dogon ancestors. People also wear talismans and charms (also called grisgris) a lot to make the evil spirits go away. Amulets, bracelets, and rings are also used.


The Mali empire was very wealthy from 1240-1500. At its peak, the empire ruled (what is now) Gambia, Guinea, Mali Senegal, Burkino Faso, Muaritania and Niger. Scholars say that the Kangaba people started Mali's empire. They're called the Mailinke people who developed in the 900's. Ghana kept getting weaker in the 1000's, 1100's and the 1200's. Kangabe and other tiny states fought for the control of Mali's empire's land. From 1235-1240, the king of Kangaba, Sudiata Keta conquered other states but found Mali Empire. Mali reached its peak under Mansa Musa who ruled from 1312- 1337. In 1324, Mansa Musa made a pilgrimage to Mecca, the holy city of the Islam. That pilgrimage made Mali get attention from surrounding countries and Mansa Musa was made a historical figure in European writing. He doubled Mali's whole land! Mansa Musa, who was Muslim, also built excellent Islam mosques in Mali. Mansa Musa was known far and wide! At that time, Timbuktu was a great place of learning. Mostly in law and the study of Islam, which is the Muslim religion.
People of Mali's empire's cities were successful farmers and herders. Members of governing classes who were Muslims continued on to follow African spiritual beliefs. After about the 1400's, Songhai and other states conquered Mali's outlying area. By 1500, the Songhai Empire ruled most territory that used to be of the Mali Empire.